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Shaka's Children - A History of the Zulu People

Taylor, Stephen
Harper Collins, 1994 ISBN: 0-0255144-6


It would be excusable if someone, hearing of the war of 1879 for the first time, imagined that the British faced an ill-disciplined and unco-ordinated militia following centuries-old traditions of tribal combat; however, as most books about the period are at pains to show, the Zulu army was a highly organised, professional force - even more so than the British soldiers, since the whole life of its members was focussed on war and the entire nation was geared towards supporting this. Furthermore, its structure, methods and weapons were not primitive legacies, but dated back only some three generations, to a reorganisation which makes Cardwell's reforms of the British army in the 1870's look quite trivial. This phenomenon of the Zulu military machine, unique in sub-Saharan Africa, was the work of one man, Shaka, contemporary of and comparable to Napoleon; it was his vision which later came to fruition in the victory (albeit ultimately pyrrhic) at Isandlwana. Certainly, this book presents Shaka as the major influence shaping this culture, his legacy being not only a military organisation but also the identity and unity of the Zulus in the fluid context of tribal Africa; it also shows him as a rounded character with recognisable psychological and practical causes for the frequently brutal actions which have led to him often being presented as a monster. The subsequent history of the Zulus, with its lesser kings and the ultimately disastrous involvement with Europeans, is seen as a decline by comparison, slowed only by the strong elements which Shaka bequeathed. A fascinating and detailed narrative, showing the long-term build-up to 1879 and its equally long-term aftermath, on the east side of the Buffalo.

J R Gregson August 2006